Endangered Species Act
There are currently 276 species of wild animals and plants at risk of going extinct in Canada alone. Endangered species protection has always been very important to Canadians as wildlife is an important part of our heritage. In a recent 1996 survey, over 92 percent of Canadians stated their support for legislation to protect species at risk in Canada and close to 90 percent indicated that the federal government should play a leadership role in protecting endangered species in Canada.
On August 17th, 1995, former Environment Minister, Sheila Copps, introduced a proposal for an Endangered Species Act. Greenpeace and many other environmental groups commended this idea but were appalled to learn that the legislation, as proposed, only applied to species on four per cent of Canada's land base. In addition, habitat protection was not guaranteed for any species. Habitat loss is believed to be the reason 80 percent of the endangered species, such as the grizzly bear and the piping plover, may be going the same way as the eelgrass limpet, a species of mollusk that has not been seen since 1929.
"This is analogous to telling people that we won't destroy your house but we will destroy your grocery store, your community, and everything around you," stated David Schindler, professor of ecology at the University of Alberta. Professor Schindler has won international acclaim for his work on how acid rain kills lakes. Many people, like him, were very concerned about the legislation and wrote parliament, deeply criticizing the bill and how it only protected an incredibly small portion of the species at risk in Canada.
One year later on October 2nd, 1996, parliament released a newly revised version of the bill which protects all species at risk on federal lands, as well as aquatic species and most migratory birds. In comparison to the proposal made last year, the bill now protects species on 60 percent of Canada's land base instead of the four percent proposed last year. The bill includes fines of up to $500,000 or five years in prison to anyone who kills federally-managed species or species on federal lands. Under the Act, any individual can submit a proposal to have a species considered for designation, reclassification or emergency designation, provided the applicant supplies relevant scientific or traditional ecological information on its status. Citizens also have the right to make presentations to the minister or to take civil action to protect endangered species. Although many agree that this is a vast improvement over the previous proposal, the bill still raises many concerns. Only aquatic species and species on federal lands are eligible for habitat protection. The Act does not allow for habitat protection of migratory birds outside of federal lands, even though the government has clear authority to do so.
Another significant concern is that the legislation will only apply to species on federal land. The vast majority, including species that cross provincial borders, will fall under provincial jurisdiction. This means that the bill only applies to 40 percent of the 276 species at risk in Canada. "If the legislation is not amended, Canadians will look like total fools internationally", commented Schindler.
He and other scientists across Canada agree that the new bill is better but still not good enough.
They are all worried that the new bill still will not ensure the survival of endangered species at risk now threatened with extinction. The scientist signed a letter to Prime Minister Jean Chretien asking him to strengthen the bill to protect the habitat of species at risk. The bill is being studied by a House of Commons committee but Environment Minister Sergio Marchi has said he wants it passed before this spring. Environmentalists hope to achieve major revisions of the legislation when it goes through committee study. Canada has already lost 21 species and they say no government will want to take responsibility for more species going the way of the Labrador duck, sea mink, passenger pigeon and the blue walleye which are now long extinct in the wild.
Protecting endangered species has long been the subject of debate between the federal and provincial governments. Some provinces, specifically Quebec and Alberta, have fought any encroachment on how they manage their land. This has caused great difficulty towards trying to protect "trans-boundary" species. To address this issue, last September, the provinces signed an accord to introduce complementary legislation, if necessary. Four provinces, namely Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick, already have legislation. Strangely, British Columbia which has greater ecological and biological diversities than any other province in Canada, unfortunately does not.
If the endangered species in Canada are to survive, their recovery requires strong federal leadership and if they are not going to provide this leadership than we can. Learn about Canada's species at risk, identify them and find out what threats they face. Pay special attention to those in your region and pass the knowledge onto someone else. Make yourself and others aware of the terrible predicament that animals are facing today. Try writing to the Prime Minister, or perhaps the Minister of the Environment and tell them you want their support for an effective endangered species legislation. Better still, join one of the thousands of organizations nationwide dedicated to preserving a happy and healthier future for us all.
The endangered species legislation is just one step towards helping the larger problem we face as human beings on this earth. As a society, we are consuming and destroying the environment around us and this is something we must stop. We are too much into consumerism and that is not necessarily a good thing. If you look up the word "consumer" in the dictionary you will find that it means "to use up", "to take", "devour", and "to absorb completely". Being called a consumer is not a title we should be proud of. But, as a society, that is exactly what we are doing, consuming.
There are many good things that people are doing to help save our planet but there are still not enough. All of us must get involved in helping the planet and the recovery of species facing extinction, like "Operation Burrowing Owl", an example of where thousands of people came together to help this dwindling species. If we don't get involved in things like that, then animals like the cougar, the beluga whale, and the grizzly bear might not survive through the millennia.
Striking a balance between our use and protection of the natural world around us is not only important to the animals but for us as well. If we don't start taking care of our world, eventually we will have nothing left. As The World Wildlife Fund says, "we must all remember that their future is our future".Bibliography
The Endangered Species Coalition. Ottawa, Ontario.
WWF Canada . Ottawa, Ontario.
McIlroy, Anne."Tougher Measures For Wildlife Favoured". The Globe and Mail, Tuesday January 28th.
McIlroy, Anne. " Scientists fear bill won't save animals. The Globe and Mail, Monday, February 3rd
Canadian Endangered Species Protection Act: What protecting endangered species means to Canadians
Hakes, Suzanne. "Protecting the endangered". The David Suzuki Foundation Newsletter.